🇸🇪 Bloggen som annex till akademin

Det här bokkapitlet (publicerat 2015) var ett av resultaten av det projekt jag drev som Post Doc, stationerad på reklambyrån Forsman & Bodenfors. Projektet hette Jaget som profil: Internetanvändarnas motivationsgrunder för vidare-befordran av innehåll på den sociala webben (finansierat av Riksbankens jubileumsfond) och ursprungssyftet var att undersöka internetanvändares motivationsgrunder för länkning och vidarebefordring av innehåll på webben, huvudsakligen med hjälp av en kvalitativt orienterad empirisk ansats.

I ett av delprojekten valde jag att komplettera min tidigare fildelningsforskning genom att dels göra en kvantitativ innehållsanalys av en textcorpus baserad på ett urval av öppna svar i en enkät publicerad på The Pirate Bay, med syfte att bättre förstå delningslogiken bland fildelare, och dels göra semistrukturerade kvalitativa intervjuer med anonyma medlemmar av hemliga, webbaserade fildelningscommunities, samt med akademiska bloggare som, märkte jag, ofta hade resonerat om delningslogik, socialitet och ömsesidig synlighet på webben.

På många sätt blev det en rad olika intressant reflexiva återkopplingar som aktiverades bland bloggarna.

Mellan december 2012 och februari 2013 utförde jag en rad intervjuer, vars slutsatser jag sedan sammanförde på en kollektiv så kallad Pirate Pad, där respondenterna själva kunde gå in och läsa och kommentera varandras svar (de flesta av dessa svar är anonymiserade i texten). Sammanlagt tio av fjorton tillfrågade gick med på att intervjuas. Jag tillfrågade sju kvin­nor och sju män; samtliga män gick med på intervjuer men endast tre av kvinnorna. Respondenterna gav flera exempel på hur bloggskrivandet blir del av en dynamisk, inte alltid linjär process av begreppsutveckling, inspiration och skrivande.

Det finns i vår tid en rad visioner om att digitaliseringen möjliggör kvantifierad lekmannabedömning inom forskarsamhället, samt samverkan och nyttogörande av forskningsresultaten, en idé om att inte bara forskningens vetenskapliga utan också ”sociala impact” ska kunna mätas, en sorts potential att transparent jämföra och värdera olika insatser.

Kapitlet berör de vardagspolitiska dimensio­nerna i dessa visioner, så som de manifesterade sig under det sena 00­-talet och det tidiga 10­-talet. Jag visar att den typ av lekmannadeltagande som ofta omhuldas i prognoser inför den hägrande ”postdigitala” framtiden i verkligheten åtföljs av komplexa korslänkningar av ege­nintressen, personliga incitament och barriärer i termer av färdighe­ter, kunskaper, tid och sociala band.

Kapitlet bygger på en självupplevd, samtidshistorisk betraktelse av processer som iscensätts genom bloggen som kunskapande praktik. När jag skrev kapitlet var det utifrån erfarenhetsbaserad kunskap som jag själv hade tillskansat mig under mina unga år, som aspirerande forskare inom fältet humaniora/samhällsvetenskap – med just den digitala domänen som intresseområde.

Jag hade ju själv i perioder experimenterat med att, parallellt med arbetet som doktorand, sedermera postdoc, skriva i olika typer av format på den öppna webben. Sådant skrivande ägde under den senare halvan av 00-­talet huvudsakligen rum på olika former av bloggar. Detta kom vid skiftet 00-tal/10-tal att ersättas med en rörelse mot de privatägda och centraliserade plattformarna Facebook, Instagram och Twitter – något som till exempel Rasmus Fleischer skrivit om.

Den ”bloggosfär” som avhandlas i kapitlet var en sorts tillfällig samfällighet på den öppna webben, där människor etablerade nätverk mellan varandra dels genom att jag själv driva egna bloggar, men också genom att kommenterar andra perso­ners inlägg på dessa personers bloggar.

Som av ett sammanträffande skriver jag nu, som lektor och docent, återigen i ett bloggformat. Vi får se vad framtiden kommer att bära med sig!

Andersson Schwarz, J. (2015). Bloggen som annex till akademin: En skådeplats för kunskapande och vänskapande. I: M. Lindström & A. Wickberg Månsson (red.) Universitetet som medium. Stockholm: Mediehistoriskt arkiv. 109–134.

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🇬🇧 Platform Logic: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Platform-Based Economy

In September 2016, I attended an excellent academic conference, The Platform Society, arranged by the great people at Oxford University’s Internet Institute. My paper, presented there, was later re-worked into this article.

The concept of platforms has emerged in recent years as one of the most important concepts of the digital economy. In brief, my article concludes that digital platforms enact different types of governance, by recourse to three levels of observation: micro, meso, and macro.

  • In the minute, discrete interactions between platforms and users, micro-level forms of technocratic control are enabled.
  • On the level of platform interoperability (the meso level), a range of generative outcomes are supported.
  • In global aggregate, a macro-level mode of geopolitical domination is enabled.

Over at Oxford University’s Policy and Internet blog, you can read an interview with me about the article.

What’s the background to this article?

Digital platforms are not just software-based media, they are governing systems that control, interact, and accumulate. As surfaces on which social action takes place, digital platforms mediate — and to a considerable extent, dictate — economic relationships and social action. By automating market exchanges they solidify relationships into material infrastructure, lend a degree of immutability and traceability to engagements, and render what previously would have been informal exchanges into much more formalized rules.

Platforms enable a great number of new, seemingly rational and efficacious ways of organising society; but they are also based on an element of control, since users’ latitude is circumscribed by the computer code, and users are in many ways forced to adapt their behaviour to the interactions allowed for and prescribed by the platform owners.

A few platform-based corporations (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) have gained massive global influence, since not only users but also a long list of other societal actors have become dependent on the services provided by these global companies, including many smaller, upcoming platform companies.

How does my concept of “platform logic” become useful?

If one chooses to look at the discrete, often highly technical inter-platform affordances and connections, one will see generativity and scope for innovation. This is what is often focused on in the business press, and similar outlets, despite the fact that many economists would argue that our present era of digital development is less innovative than past ones.

If one chooses, instead, to look at the emerging transnational, geopolitical formations under platform capitalism, one will make an entirely different set of observations. Theorists like Nick Srnicek and Frank Pasquale have argued that platform capitalism begets historically unprecedented forms of economic domination.

Lastly, if one chooses to observe the very minutiae of platform interaction — the ways in which individuals and organisations adapt to the technical imperatives that the platforms as infrastructures implement, one will see that there is a strong form of technocracy involved. Researchers like Robyn Caplan and danah boyd have recently shown how this takes place in institutions, as different organisations adapt their ways of doing things so that they become more compatible with the existing platforms, and in order to emulate the alleged efficacy and agility of tech companies. I, myself, have argued that the epistemological convictions that are at the root of behavioural data-gathering companies such as Facebook, and the technical prescription exerted by the resulting infrastructures, might be much more rigid than many would think, steering also the operatives inside the platform corporations to an extent that we should not underestimate.

The interplay between these different mechanics (each one observable by using the attendant optic) can be neatly summarized by my concept of “platform logic.”

I argue that platform logic is both conforming to and distinct from pre-existing capitalist structural logics (Taylorism perhaps being the one closest at hand, something that was recently seized upon by Evgeny Morozov in his long review of Shoshana Zuboff’s Surveillance Capitalism). Due to the digital nature of platforms, many tendencies already latent in capitalism (monopolism, colonialism, generativity) are exacerbated, while some altogether new tendencies can also be observed.

Platform power can be summarised as ‘the power to link facially separate markets and/or to constrain participation in markets by using technical protocols’ (Cohen 2016: 374). Data is generated, almost automatically, the very moment the infrastructure is used, enabling surveillance and various designs that utilize such data. This has primarily been discussed in relation to the distribution of ads and editorial content in the media sector, but has huge importance also for other industries. Further, digital platforms directly benefit from so-called network effects that make the platform exponentially more valuable as more people use it.

We already know that digital systems have the quality of being possible to scale, virtually endlessly. We also know that code is control, in the sense that events aboard platforms can be governed in absolute, binary ways; users and possibilities can be turned on or off. However, this hard logic of infrastructural control stands in tension with the softer, more generative potentials that are often observed as inherent to digitization; programmability, interoperability and so on. In other words, platforms are charged with a ‘paradoxical tension between the logic of generative and democratic innovations and the logic of infrastructural control’ (Eaton et al. 2015: 218). My concept of “platform logic” refers to this quite specific and, at times, paradoxical interplay that platform power results in.

Andersson Schwarz, J. (2017). Platform Logic: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Platform-Based Economy. Policy & Internet, 9(4): 374–394. DOI: 10.1002/poi3.159

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🇬🇧 Developing Platform Economies

Data-driven digital platforms have become a key organisational form, with vast economic interest and impact in contemporary societies.

Digital platforms – and, arguably, the underlying data-driven platform logic that they make part of – are having considerable impact on most levels of our daily lives, addressing both public and private sectors and either disrupting or integrating with various markets.

This calls for more scrutiny of the consequences of digital platform economies and what we in this report call platformisation, in particular as a component of the conditions for innovation and economic welfare. One key example is the relationship between global, large-scale tech companies and more traditional incumbents on various markets – or, for that matter, the relationship between said platform corporations and smaller, emerging startups that partially rely on the platform-based infrastructures controlled by these gargantuan platform corporations. Moreover, geopolitical and jurisdictional dependencies abound – for example the different policy landscapes in USA and the EU.

This brief anthology was intended to complement the publication of the Swedish anthology on platformisation, Plattformssamhället, that I edited together with Stefan Larsson, during the same year.

Larsson, S. & J. Andersson Schwarz (2018). Developing Platform Economies: A European policy landscape. Brussels: European Liberal Forum. ISBN 978-91-87379-51-2.

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🇸🇪 Plattformssamhället

Digitala plattformar har under de senaste åren seglat upp som ett av de mest centrala begreppen i den digitala ekonomin. Plattformar möjliggör mängder av nya, effektiva sätt att organisera samhället – men de bygger också på ett element av styrning, då mänskligt handlande måste anpassa sig efter datorkoden. En handfull plattformsbaserade företag (Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft) har fått enormt stort globalt inflytande, där inte bara användarna utan rader av andra samhällsaktörer har blivit beroende av tjänster från dessa giganter.

Samtidigt har de senaste åren rader av mindre företag dykt upp (många av dem nyetablerade så kallade startups, finansierade av riskkapital), vars affärsmodeller är baserade på olika typer av plattformar. Även många av dessa mindre plattformsföretag är i många avseenden beroende av dem.

Tillsammans med Stefan Larsson satte jag under 2018 ihop en antologi med syfte att samla flera kloka svenska röster i frågor relaterade till plattformsproblematiken. Publiceringen av antologin Plattformssamhället (Fores) i början av 2019 sammanföll i tid med den internationellt inflytelserika boken The Platform Society (Oxford University Press) av de holländska ledande forskarna José van Dijck, Thomas Poell och Martijn de Waal, som i synnerhet lyfter fram plattformarnas snabba framträdande inom olika områden som i Europa länge har varit offentligfinansierad verksamhet medan i USA är utpräglat privatägda (urban transport, nyhetsproduktion och dissemination, hälsovård och utbildning). Under hösten 2018 stod jag som extern reviewer av holländarnas bok, och arbetet med den svenska plattformsboken gynnades av denna internationella utblick.

Digitala plattformar kan få progressiva och rentav livsavgörande (goda) effekter – men kan likaledes användas för att kontrollera, manipulera och övervaka människor. De stora plattformsföretagen har global räckvidd, men det finns skäl att förutsätta att jurisdiktioner och politiska system förblir nationella. Häri ligger en rad utmaningar. Flera av dem berörs i boken.

Andersson Schwarz, J. & S. Larsson (red., 2019). Plattformssamhället: Den digitala utvecklingens politik, innovation och reglering. Stockholm: Fores.

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🇸🇪 Journalistikens roll i den nya medieekologin

Internetanvändningen har på kort tid kommit att domineras av en rad privatägda och annonsfinansierade digitala plattformar med stort inflytande världen över: Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, och så vidare. Påfallande stor del av medieanvändningen äger rum på eller i anslutning till plattformar av detta slag.

Detta faktum innebär ett nytt sammanhang och skapar en bakgrund till studiet av massmedier och journalistik som är viktig både vad beträffar strukturell analys (ekonomiska flöden, materiella förutsättningar, maktrelationer osv) och analys av villkoren för kunskapsproduktion i detta medielandskap (sanningsanspråk, problemformuleringsprivilegier, skildringsmonopol osv). Även medieorganisationer som inte aktivt verkar på dessa internetplattformar har kommit att påverkas, då de konkurrerar med dessa plattformar och med de medieorganisationer som är direkt aktiva på dem.

Mot bakgrund av detta tar jag i detta lärobokskapitel ett medieekologiskt perspektiv på journalistikens villkor i det samtida digitala medielandskapet. Genom att betrakta den sociala mediecirkulationen och den redaktionella mediecirkulationen som två distinkta system, vilka dock inte är separata utan ständigt sammankopplade och på många sätt hopflätade med varandra, kan vi bättre förstå villkoren för vår tids internetmedierade journalistik.

Andersson, J. (2019) Journalistikens roll i den nya medieekologin. I: M. Karlsson & J. Strömbäck (red.) Handbok i journalistikforskning. Lund: Stidentlitteratur. 409-422.

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🇬🇧 Umwelt and individuation: Digital signals and technical being

This chapter, which forms part of a deep and existentially far-reaching anthology on Digital Existence, is essentially a plea for a more responsive, cooperative information infrastructure. I address this by taking Facebook as an example.

Today’s digital landscape is quite literally premised on a theory of information that was in fact intended for machines – Claude Shannon’s theorem from 1948. Thus, the digital imaginary of our time is unfortunately of a very rigid, mute, non-vitalist kind – essentially inhuman.

My chapter is an attempt at reaching towards a more integrated, dynamic, vitalistic, and inclusive theory of digital information, by adopting the theory of Gilbert Simondon, a French 1950s thinker of technology.

Simondon affirms technology as a symbiotic process, enabling a utopian future where humans and digital infrastructures can be allowed to truly co-habit this planet – in contrast with today’s mainstream paradigm, which rather seems to stipulate an alienated relationship to technology, humans in one ringside and machines in the other. In Simondon’s theory, the individual is not a being but an act, and individuality is always an aspect of generation, ever-evolving, an ongoing genesis.

This stands in stark contrast to prevailing technocratic “solutions” (apps, platforms, databases) that are essentially systems of control, where users are deprived of genuine participation and are at best offered limited forms of co-creation that are always conditional on the proprietors or owners in question. At worst, the participation allowed for users is only illusory. The very act of trying to encapsulate human being into predefined, finite and locked-down boxes – trying to “pin down” individuals and groups by recourse to palimpsests, intended to “freeze” system states as if these were reliable and objective snapshots of human behaviour – is reductive and regressive at its core.

Believe it or not: These rather outlandish epistemological convictions actually lay at the root of today’s tech companies that base their business models on behavioural data, leading the operatives inside of these companies to pretend that the signals gathered are truthful and representative renditions of human behaviour.

What is more, once these operatives implement new applications based on the data that they are constantly gathering and feeding into algorithmic systems of behavioural manipulation and control, these systems actually begin to actively shape the real world that they are interacting with.

Soon, sinister feedback loops emerge: By observing the behaviours that these algorithmic systems prescribe, indeed dictate, users are taught to behave in specific ways in order to navigate the interface in the expected ways. By doing so, they become enticed to make further interactions which will, in turn, be farmed into new, interesting content for other users to interact with: Think of how Facebook users are compelled to publish and share content that is expected to be desirable among their peers.

More importantly, any move that a user would make is monitored and recorded so as to enable the corporation to interpret these signals in order to make selections of content and advertisements that they believe that the user him- or herself would find interesting, based on what they read these signals to indicate.

Moreover, users would arguably adapt also their own behaviours in order to suit the algorithmic infrastructure: In order to maintain peer visibility, users are compelled to design their posts in accordance with what the algorithmic interface tends to value as popular or recognizable to a large audience (Gillespie, 2014: 183). This precipitates a kind of built-in conformism; a popularity bias (Webster 2014).

Algorithms indirectly construct culture by way of feedback loops like this. Individuals seem to act based on what they observe that these semi-automated systems seem to value.

My argument, in brief

There is a funny thing though.

Do you see how the humans in the loop always have to second-guess what the system would prefer or predict? Essentially, the corporation makes educated guesses from all the vast amounts of user signals that they collect, and try to make target groups and so that they can increase the chances for advertisers to place ads that actually engage the users. Essentially, users themselves try to “game” the system so that they can reap as many benefits as they can from using it.

Researchers like Taina Bucher and John Cheney-Lippold have come to similar conclusions.

In order to understand all of this better, let us think of these media-technological systems as Umwelts for individuals to roam through. The concept of Umwelt was developed in the early 20th century by the Baltic German biologist Jakob von Uexküll, and refers to the cognized environment, the “self-centered world” which all organisms live in. All organisms experience life in terms of subjective reference frames: a bumblebee is at the center of its own world, much like the Facebook user is at the center of her own world, uniquely personalised for her, by Facebook the corporation™.

So, as users interact with environments-that-are-unique-to-them-and-only-them, they would at the same time give off signals as they keep interacting with this built environment. After all, this is an environment that is built on surveillance, all the way through. These signals are then instantly harvested by the platform proprietors and are read to be indicative of the assumed internal states of these individuals.

The really clever thing with this argument, though, is that we can think of also the platform infrastructure’s intelligence as a form of technical Umwelt unto itself!

Facebook doesn’t magically “know” you, as if we were dealing with some kind of sentient fairy-tale being, a Leviathan of some kind (although some critical scholars would definitely seem to want to frame it like that!) The platform operators and managers can actually only “see” that which takes place in the direct interactions, the actual “clicks” and measurable movements made. This is, quite literally, all that the automated systems have to go on. A system is a sum of inputs. It is by compiling signals, encoded in the form of “behavioural data,” that the engineers, behavioural scientists and marketing experts who build and maintain this infrastructure make their decisions.

Consequentially, we should not underestimate the degree to which the actual operatives inside the platform corporations are informed by estimations that risk being very reductive, if not even blind to a lot of aspects of human life.

A stunning addition!

After having finished this article in 2018, I was reminded of the concept of affordances, pioneered by cognitive psychologist J.J. Gibson in 1979. It is a bit embarrassing that his work hadn’t actually crossed my mind before. I’m schooled in a field somewhat indebted to continental philosophy and the Frankfurt school, so the work of an American mid-20th century psychologist hadn’t really cropped up on may radar.

But, conversely, Gibson himself had no reference to Umwelt either.

Andersson Schwarz, J. (2018). Umwelt and individuation: Digital signals and technical being. In: A. Lagerkvist (Ed.) Digital Existence. London & New York: Routledge. 61-80.

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🇬🇧 Heuristics of the Algorithm

As the cultural and media industries have developed into 21st century forms, where large aggregates of personal information (behavioural data) is mined in order to find patterns of correlations so that individuals and target groups can be identified, me and my co-author Göran Bolin explore some of the foundational heuristics that businesses have to rely upon.

We begin by contrasting 20th century audience statistics with those of the 21st century. 20th century intelligence on mass media audiences was founded on representative statistical samples, analysed by statisticians at the market departments of media corporations.

In the 21st century, an age of pervasive and ubiquitous personal media (e.g. laptops, smartphones, credit cards/swipe cards and radio-frequency identification), techniques for aggregating user data build on large aggregates of information (Big Data) analysed by algorithms that transform data into commodities.

While the former technologies were built on socio-economic variables such as age, gender, ethnicity, education, media preferences (i.e. categories recognisable to media users and industry representatives alike), Big Data technologies register consumer choice, geographical position, web movement, and behavioural information in technologically complex ways that for most lay people are too abstract to appreciate the full consequences of.

The data mined for pattern recognition privileges relational rather than demographic qualities. We argue that the agency of interpretation at the bottom of market decisions within media companies nevertheless introduces a ‘heuristics of the algorithm’, where the data inevitably has to be translated into social categories.

In the paper we argue that although the promise of algorithmically generated data is often implemented in automated systems where human agency gets increasingly distanced from the data collected (it is our technological gadgets that are being surveyed, rather than us as social beings), one can observe a felt need among media users and among industry actors to ‘translate back’ the algorithmically produced relational statistics into ‘traditional’ social parameters. The tenacious social structures within the advertising industries work against the techno-economically driven tendencies within the Big Data economy.

Bolin, G. & J. Andersson Schwarz (2015). Heuristics of the Algorithm: Big Data, User Interpretation and Institutional Translation. Big Data & Society, 2(2): 1–12. DOI: 10.1177/2053951715608406

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🇬🇧 The justifications of piracy: Differences in conceptualization and argumentation between active uploaders and other file-sharers

In April 2011 the Cybernorms research group (Lund University, Sweden) conducted a global file sharing survey known as the Research Bay study, which was arranged as a temporary online survey (it was only public for a mere 72 hours) on the front page of the Pirate Bay website. This survey generated more than 75,000 replies from across the world.

In this chapter, me and co-author Stefan Larsson draw on both of our respective theoretical approaches, and through that theoretical frame we analyse a set of aggregated open answers from this survey. We focused on the longish, free-flowing replies in the open text box that followed this survey question:

Please give us your own comments on the topic of file-sharing, especially how the situation in your home country looks like and what you think will be the next big thing when it comes to the Internet and/or file-sharing.

Out of the 75,901 respondents, 67,838 did indeed answer this question.

The purpose of our subsequent analysis was to understand various modes of justification that different conceptions of file sharing reinforce. By doing so, we have presented a model for approaching ‘piracy’ more systematically than in much of the contemporary literature to date.

‘Piracy’ as a general reference to unauthorized copying of files is, essentially, a metaphor. Cognitive linguists not only teach us that metaphors are of fundamental importance for abstract thought – metaphors also come in clusters, jointly giving meaning to each other. As Stefan Larsson has pointed out, many metaphors rely on, or are constructed from conceptions of society. It has been argued that much of the conflict connected to the regulation of copyright today can be described in terms of a battle of such conceptions.

These conceptions are very dependent on what different kinds of framing of social reality they are based upon. Different regimes of justification stipulate different ways of assessing piracy and its alleged good or bad repercussions. For example, within a ‘civic’ order of assessment where concerns are raised for ‘the whole of society,’ piracy and/or file sharing might be seen to hit some sectors rather badly, while others would benefit from it: on the whole, however, society would be seen to benefit from it. An ‘industrial’ order of assessment, on the other hand, would focus on business value, marketability, profit and so on.

By assessing examples of file-sharer discourse gathered from the abovementioned survey, we explored the conceptions that much of this discourse hinged upon.

While three general frames were apparent among all respondents (optimism regarding the future of file-sharing; pragmatic aspects like convenience and availability; personal resilience towards regulation), the group of respondents who defined themselves as active uploaders tended to more clearly imagine a tug-of-war between the vernacular file-sharing masses on the one hand, and the entertainment industry and its cultural producers on the other one. Compared to the non-uploaders, this smaller group of hard-core file sharers took a much more negative stance towards this industry. The dichotomous template of an ongoing ‘copyfight’ wasn’t as apparent among the much larger group of non-uploaders, and they were much more positive towards the entertainment industry than the group of frequent uploaders.

Andersson Schwarz, J. & S. Larsson (2014). The justifications of piracy: Differences in conceptualization and argumentation between active uploaders and other file-sharers. In: M. Fredriksson & J. Arvanitakis (Eds.) Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. Los Angeles, CA: Litwin Books. 217–239.

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